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Title: Royal entertainment in three Norse kings' saga compilations : Morkinskinna, Heimskringla, and Fagrskinna
Author: Collinson, A.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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This dissertation looks at three closely related Norse texts, all dated to the early thirteenth century: Morkinskinna, Heimskringla, and Fagrskinna. These are collections of stories involving Norwegian kings, and so are known as ‘kings’ sagas’. The stories themselves are not only about state affairs, but also about personal relationships in royal circles. For this reason, these three works - especially Morkinskinna and Heimskringla - are significant sources of information about the way in which the social behaviour of Norwegian kings was presented in Norse historiography of the early thirteenth century. Because the compliers devote so much attention to activities which can be seen as entertainment or play (skemmtan, gaman), and because accounts of such activities provide particularly rich opportunities for analysis of social behaviour, I focus in this study on these. I concentrate first on entertainment for kings, in which kings mainly spectate, before looking at entertainment by kings, in which co-participation by royal and non-royal performers creates especially complex and interesting performance situations and relationships. Often, entertainment activities involve verse recitation or prose storytelling, although clowning and other kinds of spectacle are also to be found. Most feature an element of competition, which Huizinga sees as central to play, and which Ong considers especially important in primarily oral cultures. As a result, I view many of the entertainments which appear in the compilations as challenge rituals, of the kind of identified by Meulengracht Sorensen as vital to the Norse world, represented in the literature. Sometimes, challenge appears to be personal as well as interpersonal, giving characters opportunities to confront and even exploit their own potential weaknesses, in addition to those of others. Repeated challenge tends to generate a culture of mocking spectatorship, particularly when it comes to the circle around Haraldr harðraði, as shown by Morkinskinna. Readers are invited to share in this culture through vivid focal details - intensely striking images or sounds - which bring them close to the people and events described, and fix these in memory. What otherwise seems to count for characters and compilers is inscrutability, often attained through personal peculiarity or singularity, for instance in the form of radical temperamentality or unpredictability, or apparent weakness or lack of wisdom, or through recitation of complex verse, or even outright deception. Alongside challenge, then, personal and social ambiguity are fundamental themes in the many entertainment accounts to be found in the compilations, particularly Morkinskinna and Heimskringla.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available